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Match for life: The senior golfer & fitness

Published January 27. 2010 05:00PM

How can you match a lifetime game with the opportunity to play for a lifetime?

"You must combat the aging process by applying smarter fitness. Yesterday's fitness just won't do today," emphasizes John Bolesta, a Titlest Performance Institute Certified Golf Fitness Trainer working out of Saucon Valley Country Club , Lehigh Country Club, and Infini-Tee Golf Center in New Jersey. "Club control starts with a fit body, and then the other facets of the game follow."

Some of the exercises taught in the past do not help with the golf swing and actually contribute to injury. A look at some of the limitations and problems a senior faces and a brief fitness evaluation creates a way to make game improvements.

Limitations with movement in the shoulders, neck, upper/middle back, and hip rotation are common with most senior players. These limitations are due to poor posture, which develops over time. Most swing faults can be connected to these limitations. This forward curve shortens muscles and creates restrictions in the golf swing.

"It isn't that the golfer can't comprehend what an instruction book or teaching lessons offers him or her to do, but more so, it is the body that can't do it," says Bolesta. "Proper posture cannot be over emphasized and that is where the senior player must start. The most noticeable physical limitation I have seen for seniors, especially men, is a hunched, or C, golf posture, which is observed as they set up. The odd thing is most don't even know they are in a hunched position."

What is good posture? Try this, stand up straight, chest forward and up, shoulders level over your hips, and slowly draw in the stomach. Relax and breathe, this is a correct position of body balance and a place where you can get the most from your body when you ask it to perform.

"Starting here, if you improve the body first physically with correct posture, you improve the opportunity to lower your score. If you become more flexible, you will swing better, said Bolesta. "When you swing better, your confidence and enjoyment of the game go up,"

Seniors often do not know how to exercise properly or constructively. They do exercises from the past that do not work anymore, or ones that work against them like the chest press or fly. In the past golfers thought by lifting weights they would get stronger. Off they went to the gym to do exercises on traditional weight lifting machines, only to find they made their body's tighter, restricted movement, or sometimes introduced injury. Even some of the rehab centers use traditional weight lifting machines that do not help the golfer repair and return to the game. Because gravity pulls us forward naturally, it is not profitable to do exercises with weights that reinforce this forward motion.

Flexibility and strength are needed to swing a club. Good exercises can increase both. How can you measure a level of fitness?

The following test and exercises tell you something about your fitness. Good posture and proper fitness routines can be the road to lower scores, not merely a purchase of a new club or taking a lesson. Aging is not singularly the problem in senior fitness issues, though it is a factor, it is how you properly use what you have.

"Today, fitness is smarter," said Bolesta. "We know how the body moves and how to help it keep moving as we age. In the past, people thought fitness and golf was a negative match. Proper fitness, we know, is a positive match for this game of a lifetime."

Golf Set-Up Posture

Step One - Stand sideways in front of a long mirror

Step Two - Place yourself in your golf set-up holding a six iron

Step Three - Glance sideways to check your posture

What to look for:

If you have a neutral or straight posture (this is the posture of the professional golfer)

* You have no curves at the bottom or top of your spine, but a straight spine

* This means you have the opportunity to make a good backswing.

If you have a "C"-posture (this is the common posture for seniors, especially men)

* You have a forward curve in the upper/middle of the back, which extends down your lower back, forming a "C."

* This means that your chest and lat muscles (which extend from your shoulders to your lower back) are tight.

* You will have a difficult time separating your upper body from your lower body while turning into your back swing. You won't be able to coil properly.

Shoulder Flexibility Exercise

(5-10 reps, 10-15 seconds hold)

Step One - Place your buttocks against a wall, with you feet shoulder width apart and one foot from the wall.

Step Two - Without lifting your buttocks off the wall, try to place your entire back against the wall.

Step Three - Once you place your back against the wall, lift your chest forward and up, pulling in your stomach to protect your lower back. Keep shoulder blades down. Now you are ready to attempt to reach over your head.

Step Four - Place your hands by your side against the wall with palms facing forward. Keeping your hands against the wall, try to slide your hands and arms up along the wall as far as they can go. Breathe as you hold. The goal is to reach above your head with proper posture, without hiking your shoulders, and without tension along any of the muscles from your lower back to your arms.

* Repeat the exercise. Over time, you will improve your ability to keep your entire back against the wall as you reach over your head and attempt to touch the wall.

* Use one arm. If you are having a lot of difficulty, use one arm at a time. Your ability to do this exercise tells you where your flexibility and posture are.

Seated Hamstring/Posture Test

(5-10 reps, 10-15 seconds)

Step One - Place two chairs facing each other a few feet apart. You may use a physio-ball, but make sure it is the same height as the seat height of the chair.

Step Two - Sit at the front of one chair while placing one foot on the other, other foot flat and down on the floor.

Could you sit up straight while straightening your leg? Try the other side. Try this in front of a mirror facing sideways.

If you can't do this, you have tightness in your hamstrings. This is affecting your ability to sit with good posture and flexibility, which limits you in the proper carrying out of the golf swing.

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